Letters: Right to die

Heart girl case shows need to put patients in control
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The Independent Online

The people of Washington State have just endorsed an initiative to introduce an assisted dying law. They voted with a 58 per cent majority in favour of the introduction of legislation similar to that in Oregon, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. This law has worked safely and well in Oregon for 10 years, with no evidence of the "slippery slope" which worries many who are still opposed to such legislation in this country. Palliative care services have developed and improved in Oregon since this law was introduced.

Eighty per cent of the British public support a change to the law on assisted dying. We still retain a paternalistic attitude towards patients in the medical profession and in the Government. People should be masters of their own destiny and should be given choice as to when and where and how they die. Their body belongs to them and to no one else.

As a retired hospital consultant with considerable experience of care of the elderly and terminal care in both hospitals and hospices, I am convinced that we do not have the right to deprive dying patients of this degree of autonomy and control over their own deaths.

Like many people, I was appalled to hear about the 13-year-old girl who had already endured eight years of chemotherapy and other treatment for leukaemia and had been told a heart transplant (which is a huge undertaking) would not be curative, but only palliative, and who declined such heroic surgery, as she wished to die at home with dignity – only to be told, allegedly, that the hospital intended taking the matter to court to compel her to have this surgery. At 13, especially given what she has been through for more than half her life, of course she knows her own mind. How could anyone with any common sense and compassion think otherwise?

We must restore control to the patient, not the medical team, in all health scenarios, not just terminal care. We are not a truly compassionate society until we do so.

Dr Lesley A M Evans

Porlock, Somerset

A child dies, and nobody is sacked

I expect all caring parents feel the same unspeakable horror when we read about the injuries sustained by Baby P. Unable to defend himself, he was not only failed by the people who should have been loving, protecting and caring for him, but also by the supposed safety net of well-paid professionals that we as a civilised society put in place to prevent such an outrage from occurring.

We are told that the mother was "lying and evasive". What lies can cover up more than 50 separate injuries? Fingernails pulled out, ear lobes ripped, a missing fingertip, a broken back. In a case of such obvious abuse it doesn't take a trained professional to realise that something was very badly wrong, and that this little boy was in mortal danger.

Everyone involved in this case simply failed massively in their jobs and should have the common decency to resign. If they don't, they should be sacked.

However, they will cling grimly to their well paid, generously pensioned jobs, no matter how many children get battered to death on their watch. Watch them close ranks and wait for the storm to blow over, which it will. Until the next defenceless little girl or boy is found dead in Haringey.

Philip Hart

Tynemouth, Tyne & Wear

When a child is killed because social services have been negligent the child actually dies, but nobody from social services is punished or fired. When a family is separated because social services have acted on the basis of unsubstantiated gossip or outright fabrication, the family is destroyed, but nobody from social services is punished or fired.

The atrocious behaviour of social services will not improve as long as the local authorities are allowed to self-scrutinise. Currently there is no real oversight, many decisions are not subject to judicial review, and all manner of failure is hidden behind the false principle that anonymity and secrecy protect the child. They clearly do not.

P Chandler

Haverhill, Suffolk

I'd like to know why, if a respected professional such as Lesley Douglas decides to resign over the tasteless antics of two broadcasters because it "happened on my watch", the same should not apply to the head of Haringey social services.

Nigel Maennling

Brighton

Any statistician will tell you that there are two types of error in significance testing, and lowering the probability of one will automatically increase the probability of the other.

On the dreadful case of Baby P, Ed Balls says we need to act, "to ensure that such a tragedy doesn't happen again". Apart from imposing a costly and intolerable level of observation on all families, the only way to do that is to lower the criteria for taking children away from suspect parents. This would mean erroneously taking more children away from at least adequate parents. Remember Cleveland?

Politicians should be aware of the consequences of their words and should avoid unachievable promises.

Huw Jones

London N3

Beatrix Campbell makes an extraordinary claim in her opinion piece ("Attack the professionals, and a tragedy like Baby P will result", 13 November) when she says the GMC and the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence have "worked with a political warrant to hunt down child-centred professionals". That claim is simply not borne out by the facts.

It is extremely rare for a paediatrician to appear before a GMC panel in connection with child protection work. Since 2004, panels have considered a very wide range of types of cases, involving more than 1,000 doctors. Only two could reasonably be said to have been about paediatricians involved in child protection.

Finlay Scott

Chief Executive, General Medical Council, London NW1

Tax cuts alone won't do the trick

You listened to the banks' blandishments and are up to your ears in debt. The Government reduces your tax bill, so you have a bit more to spend. Do you spend it? No, you reduce your debt. Putting more cash into people's pockets may save a wave of bankruptcies and repossessions but does little to reinvigorate the High Street.

What the Government is not telling us is that it needs to get savers to spend. To give them a tax break is one thing. But even better is to reduce interest rates to a level where it makes no sense to save. That is clearly on the cards.

The other thing the Government is avoiding, and only Vince Cable seems to have seen, is that those with high incomes can afford to pay more tax. It's essential for the Government to keep spending, even if it means borrowing. But the tax repercussions for everyone are dire. To increase income tax for the wealthy now would soften the blow for everyone later.

Tim Stone

Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire

In his article "Lloyds and HBOS – a merger that should not go through" (Opinion, 10 November) Andreas Whittam Smith stated that "The Government, on the other hand, has been given the chance to undo the negative consequences of the deal for competition, and also save Scottish jobs."

Besides its extensive branch network, HBOS has significant operations in several regions of the UK, not least in Northern Ireland, South Wales, Bristol, the West Midlands and West and South Yorkshire.

Approximately 45,000 (75 per cent) HBOS staff are employed outside of Scotland and they are very worried about their futures too. This union is taking forward the employment interests of all HBOS staff in the UK and Ireland with HBOS and LLoyds TSB.

Accord believes that the Government has a responsibility to promote employment in the UK finance industry, as well as competition and customer service, in return for its massive injection of taxpayers' money into the UK banking system.

Ged Nichols

General Secretary, Accord

Reading, Berkshire

Alistair Darling is quoted as saying: "We are going into recession. I remain confident that we will get through it." What , exactly, would it mean for us not to get through it?

David Oliver

Cambridge

Ban on gay men giving blood

Andrew Brentnall (letter, 8 November) raised concerns about the ban gay men face in donating blood. While we share concerns about the ban, the letter incorrectly quoted statistics from NAT. While the majority of new diagnoses of HIV are now among heterosexual people, gay and bisexual men, a smaller population, remain proportionally more affected. Approximately 1 in 20 gay men across the UK are living with HIV, in some areas this is higher; compared with 1 in 700 heterosexuals.

We do however welcome the debate started by Johann Hari, and have concerns about the arguments currently being used to justify the blood ban.

The only two options considered as an alternative to the ban are no restrictions at all and a one-year ban – but there are alternatives, such as the New Zealand five-year ban or as some European countries do a screening donors for the safety of their sexual activity not the gender of their sexual partners. A lifetime ban becomes increasingly indefensible when there would be next to no one with undiagnosed HIV 15 years after they were infected.

The National Blood Service has said it is willingly to review the ban if there is any new evidence. But it should be doing more. It should be proactive in questioning this outdated policy and looking for an alternative to a blanket ban.

Deborah Jack

Chief Executive, National AIDS Trust, London EC1

A big step forward for animal welfare

There has been a mixed response to the draft codes of practice issued by Defra to support the Animal Welfare Act (2006) (letter, 4 November). These codes are simply intended as a reference point for pet owners and I sincerely hope any negative comments do not deflect from the importance of this piece of legislation for the welfare of animals in this country.

For the first time, pet owners now have a legal responsibility to provide for the needs of their animal, which is a huge step forward for the animal welfare industry. But as an industry we also have a responsibility to educate the public about how to care for their animals – something the Blue Cross has been doing for many years.

These draft codes of practice are an important part of the legislative process and we hope that the public will take this opportunity to share their opinions and help shape the future of animal welfare in this country.

Steve Goody

Director of Companion Animal Welfare, The Blue Cross

London SW1

Briefly...

Kid with a funny name

Following the discussion on President Obama's names (Letters, 7, 8 November) has anyone else noticed that his surname, spelt backwards, means "I shall love" in Latin ?

Carolyn Beckingham

Lewes, East Sussex

Man and boy

In media coverage of Armistice Day, much has been made of the young age of the majority of casualties. There have been countless references in the press, including The Independent, to "young boys, barely out of their teens" losing their lives. Yet, following the news that a 15-year-old boy has been shot dead in Derby, you state that a "19-year old-man has been arrested". So, dying for your country at 19 makes you a boy, being suspected of killing someone at the same age makes you a man. A double standard?

Stan Broadwell

Bristol

Prince of intellect

Bruce Anderson's article on the Prince of Wales (13 November) discovers a vein of humour I did not know the writer to have. His argument, however, exhibits a fatal flaw. To qualify as an intellectual, it is customary to exhibit an exceptional and distinguished intellect.

Michael Rosenthal

Banbury, Oxfordshire

Historical angle

So, the RSA Academy at Tipton is innovative in tearing up the National Curriculum to make way for a skills based curriculum (Education, 13 November). Well, maybe now, but the quote from a student that "we've got a great maths teacher who took us outside and showed us how to use a clinometer to measure the height of the tower block", took me back 30 years to my primary teaching days. Except we made the clinometers first.

David Witt

Malmesbury, Wiltshire

Apostrophe anguish

You quote an anonymous financier as saying, "If their's was a normal business they would be financially in the intensive care ward." ("Banks could force sale of 'vulnerable' Liverpool", 12 November). I had not realised the misuse of apostrophes in this country had become so bad now as to be audible.

Ben Wicks

St Albans, Hertfordshire

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